Hakainde Hichilema, the millionaire cowherd turned president

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New Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema at a press conference in Lusaka on August 16, 2021.

Since his entry into the political arena in 2006, the Zambians have seen that Hakainde Hichilema was neither lacking in stubbornness – five times a presidential candidate for as many failures – nor courage – fifteen times arrested because of his political engagement against power. For his sixth electoral campaign, finally victorious, the former opponent has also shown that he has mastered the tools of a good communicator.

So, he almost wrote the title of the novel of his life: “The cowherd who became president”. Coming from the rural world and from a modest family, Hakainde Hichilema was born on June 4, 1962 in the town of Monze, 180 km southwest of Lusaka. A time guardian of the family livestock, he joined, thanks to a state scholarship, the benches of the University of Zambia, in the capital, where he obtained his license in economics and business administration in 1986. After an MBA in finance and business strategy at the University of Birmingham, UK, he will make his fortune in finance, breeding, tourism and real estate.

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Hakainde Hichilema – nicknamed “HH” by his supporters – skilfully plays both sides: a local man rooted in history and a wise and visionary manager. In the summer of 2020, he broadcast a campaign clip in which he ridiculed his opponent. The then president, Edgar Lungu (64), was caricatured as a waste of his time and money, spent on alcohol and trips to nightclubs. The opposite, in a way, of Hakainde Hichilema, portrays a loving and practicing husband in the Seventh-day Adventist Christian Church, a reasonable manager and responsible father (of three children).

“Bally will fix it”

This strategy has enabled it to gradually expand its electorate. In 2006, for his first attempt, he only came third, with 25% of the vote. Ten years later, he lost by a hair to Edgar Lungu, accused of defrauding the ballot. Proof that “HH” now constitutes a political threat to be taken seriously, he was arrested shortly after the election and imprisoned for four months, officially for “treason”. These charges, retained because he would have prohibited the passage of a presidential convoy, will then be dropped.

At the same time, “HH” understood better than his opponent how to address young people, in particular by using social networks in a country where the majority of voters are under 35 years old. Evidenced by the success on Twitter of the hashtag #BallyWillFixIt, translatable as “Bally will fix that”. A reference to his other nickname, “Bally”, an affectionate and informal slang word for the father and which could be translated as “daron”.

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His victory in the ballot on Thursday, August 12 is final: nearly 60% of the vote, against 38% for the outgoing president despite a campaign of intimidation and violence against the opposition. The relatively high participation rate (70%) reinforces its legitimacy. After a time of hesitation, Edgar Lungu has also given up contesting his defeat. True to his moderate line, the winner reached out to the loser and his supporters. ” Do not worry, he told them. You will not be the object of retaliation or the target of tear gas. “

This surprise victory – most commentators expected a very close result – does not constitute a blank check, however. Admittedly, this democratic alternation contributes to the stability of this former British colony (Northern Rhodesia) subject, from its independence in 1964 to 1991, to a one-party regime led by Kenneth Kaunda (1924-2021), before open up to a multiparty system. But the new head of state is expected on another ground by the 18 million Zambians.

“There will be ups and downs”

It will indeed be judged on its ability to keep its electoral promises to revive the economy and provide work to the many unemployed. Zambia, terribly dependent on copper – of which it is the second largest producer in Africa after the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – has suffered the full brunt of the fall in prices of this raw material. The national economy is thus placed “Under intense pressure”, worried the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

After experiencing growth rates above 10% around 2010, the country entered recession in 2020, for the first time since 1998. Thousands of jobs have been lost in the mining sector. Inflation exceeds 20% and the budget deficit exceeds 8% of GDP. And Zambia was the first African state to experience a default on interest payments on its external debt since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020.

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Hakainde hichilema a reconnu avoir “A huge task to accomplish to revive the economy and respond [aux] expectations ”. ” The trip will be difficult and stimulating, at-il having you. There will be ups and downs, but I am sure that with a lot of hard work and commitment we will succeed in building a better life for you and your children. “ The respite could be short-lived.